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What Is Melanoma?

The Skinny on the Deadliest Skin Cancer

A skin cancer that targets pigment-producing skin cells, called melanocytes.

It’s rare, accounting for 1 percent of skin cancer diagnoses.

It’s deadly, accounting for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths.

There are four main types,
listed from most to least common:

1. Superficial spreading.

  • Skin-based tumor.
  • Presents as a mole that has:
  • Asymmetry

    Border irregularity

    Color that’s uneven

    Diameter greater than six millimeters

    Evolving characteristics


2. Nodular

  • Red or flesh-colored lesions.

3. Lentigo maligna

  • Presents as age spots.
  • Typically arises in elderly patients due to sun exposure.

4. Acral lentiginous

  • Affects areas not exposed to the sun, like the palms of the hand or soles of the feet.
  • Often not identified early.


Treatment options have drastically improved in the last two decades. Northwestern Medicine offers hope through leading-edge treatments.

Treatment depends on the stage of the melanoma and the patient. It could involve surgically removing affected areas or lymph nodes, or immunotherapy.


  • Melanoma is more common in Caucasians.
  • Your risk is higher if you have a family history of melanoma.
  • Excess exposure to UV rays increases your risk of melanoma.


  • Be safe when exposed to UV rays.
  • See a dermatologist annually.
  • See a physician immediately if you notice changes in your skin or moles.
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